13 Health Benefits Of Omega 3 Fatty Acids (Backed By Science)

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of fat that the body requires for survival but is unable to produce on its own. It is, therefore, extremely important to get enough of these vital nutrients in your diet. There are three different types of Omega-3s. The first two types, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are found mainly in fish. The third type, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is found in plant sources.[1]

Foods that are high in Omega-3 fatty acids include fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and herring. Plant sources of Omega-3s include flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and canola oil.[2] Fish oil supplements, commonly found in the grocery store, are also great sources of Omega-3 fatty acids for those who don’t like to eat any of these foods.

While most of us have heard of Omega-3 fatty acids before, their specific health benefits are not commonly known. There are so many incredible reasons to include Omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. In this article, I’ll review many of the major Omega-3 health benefits you can expect from adding them into your diet.

1. Reduced Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

Eating Omega-3 fatty acids in foods such as fish or nuts can lead to a reduced risk of cardiovascular or heart disease. They do this by lowering triglyceride levels in the bloodstream. Triglycerides are a type of fat that occurs in the body and is the main contributor to body fat.[3]

2. Reduced Risk of Blood Clots

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as 900,000 people could be affected by blood clots each year in the United States.[4] Having a diet rich in Omega-3s helps to prevent platelets in the blood from clumping together, which reduces the risk of blood clots.[5]

3. Reduced Blood Pressure

Another Omega-3 health benefit is blood pressure reduction. High blood pressure is common among individuals in the United States, in large part due to dietary patterns. In a study conducted in Europe, consuming fish rich in Omega-3 such as salmon three times per week was shown to decrease diastolic blood pressure.[6]

4. Reduced Cholesterol

Along with high blood pressure, many individuals across the globe struggle with high cholesterol. It’s important to keep your cholesterol levels down as cholesterol is the building block for plaque formation in your arteries. Studies show that increased intakes of Omega-3s can lead to overall reduced cholesterol.[7]

5. Reduced Plaque in Your Arteries

As mentioned above, plaque formation in the arteries is caused by cholesterol in the blood. This plaque can cause a clot, which may lead to a heart attack.[8] Therefore, it’s extremely important to prevent plaque buildup as much as possible. Studies show that consumption of Omega-3s can help reduce plaque formation in your arteries, reducing the risk of a heart attack.[9]

6. Reduced Risk of Sudden Cardiac Death

Two main causes of sudden cardiac death are severe ventricular fibrillation or terminal cardiac arrhythmia. Ventricular fibrillation occurs when, instead of pumping blood to the rest of your body, some of the chambers in your heart just quiver. This causes blood pressure to become too low and prevents blood from being delivered to your other organs.[10]

Moreover, a cardiac arrhythmia occurs when the heart pumps irregularly. This could mean that the heart is pumping either too fast or too slow.[11] Studies show that the risk of sudden cardiac death due to either of these causes decrease with increased levels of Omega-3s.[12]

7. Improved Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms

Another important Omega-3 health benefit is improved rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. According to the CDC, between 2013-2015, about 23% of the US population was diagnosed with some form of arthritis.[13] This disease is chronic and painful. However, there may be some relief found in changing your diet.

A study published in the American Family Physician Journal showed that increased intakes of Omega-3 fatty acids can reduce inflammation in the body, leading to less stiffness and reduced tenderness in joints.[14]

8. Reduced Risk of Glaucoma

Glaucoma, which the Mayo Clinic defines as a “group of eye conditions that damage the optic nerve,” is one of the leading causes of blindness for older adults.[15] This damage is often caused by increased intraocular pressure (IOP).

Studies showed that increased intakes of Omega-3s reduced intraocular pressure.[16] This indicates that increased intakes of Omega-3 fatty acids may help to prevent glaucoma later in life.

9. Reduced Risk of Cancer

Researchers have recently been studying the benefits of Omega-3 intakes on cancer prevention. Promising data from some studies has shown a reduced risk of colon cancer with increased Omega-3 intakes. Other studies on breast and prostate cancer have more mixed results.[17]

10. Reduced Risk of Mental Health Disorders

Omega-3 fatty acids are extremely important in brain development. Given this information, researchers have been looking into the association between Omega-3 intakes and mental health disorders. In one study, Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation reduced the risk of progression to a psychiatric disorder in individuals who were already at risk of developing one.[18]

Additional studies found that, in those individuals who already had Bipolar Disorder or Tardive Dyskinesia, supplementation with Omega-3 fatty acids reduced symptoms. This was also the case for individuals with Schizophrenia when supplemented with EPA specifically.[19]

In 2017, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, 7.1% of all adults in the United States had at least one major depressive episode.[20] One study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found that individuals with depression had lower levels of Omega-3 fatty acids. Additionally, multiple studies found that intakes of Omega-3 fatty acids may improve symptoms of depression in the short term.[21][22]

11. Improvement in Infant Brain Health

Another significant Omega-3 benefit is that it improves infant brain health. One of the three types of Omega-3 fatty acids, DHA, is known to be important in the development of the nervous system. During pregnancy, the fetus relies on the mother’s supply of DHA for brain development.

Studies show that DHA supplementation during pregnancy has been shown to promote higher intelligence in the early years of a baby’s life. A mother eating enough DHA is, therefore, extremely important for the brain development of the child.[23]

12. Reduced Risk of Diabetes

According to a study published in 2020, 15 people out of every 1,000 across the world have type I diabetes.[24] As a disease that is both difficult to manage and costly, it’s important for those who are pregnant to evaluate their diet to prevent their newborn from developing this disease. One change expecting mothers may want to make is adding more canola oil or salmon. Studies showed that increased intakes of Omega-3s in the first year of life led to decreased risk of type 1 diabetes.[25]

13. Weight Reduction

According to the CDC, from 2017 to 2018, 42.4% of Americans were categorized as obese. Additionally, 9.2% of the population of the US were categorized as severely obese.[26] Having a body mass index or BMI that falls within the obese or severely obese categories can also lead to other chronic illnesses, such as heart disease or diabetes. Therefore, it’s extremely important to maintain a healthy weight.

Some studies have found that consuming Omega-3 supplements, along with consuming a healthy diet, improved body composition and reduced cardiovascular risk factors of participants.[27] Another study conducted found that, in overweight men, including fish oils as part of a healthy, calorie-restricted diet led to more weight loss over a 4 week period than did the diet alone.[28]

The Bottom Line

Including Omega-3 fatty acids in your diet clearly has many incredible benefits. From weight loss to improved cardiovascular and brain health to reduced risk of type I diabetes and glaucoma, the Omega-3 health benefits are endless.

If you’re thinking about adding some Omega-3 containing foods into your diet, we’re right there with you! But how much of these healthy fats should you be eating? For an individual without any history of heart disease, The American Heart Association recommends having two servings (6-8 oz) of Omega-3 containing fish each week. If you do have heart disease or high triglyceride levels, check with your doctor regarding serving sizes.[29]

More About Omega-3 Benefits

Featured photo credit: Didssph via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard School of Public Health: Omega-3 Fatty Acids: An Essential Contribution
[2] Cleveland Clinic: Omega-3 Fatty Acids
[3] WebMD: The Facts on Omega-3 Fatty Acids
[4] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Data and Statistics on Venous Thromboembolism
[5] Cleveland Clinic: Omega-3 Fatty Acids
[6] PubMed.gov: Moderate consumption of fatty fish reduces diastolic blood pressure in overweight and obese European young adults during energy restriction
[7] ResearchGate: Omega-3 fatty acids in health and disease and growth and development
[8] Harvard Health Publishing: Can we reduce vascular plaque buildup?
[9] PubMed.gov: Effect of omega-3 fatty acids supplementation on endothelial function: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials
[10] Mayo Clinic: Ventricular fibrillation
[11] Mayo Clinic: Heart arrhythmia
[12] ResearchGate: Omega-3 fatty acids in health and disease and growth and development
[13] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Arthritis-Related Statistics
[14] American Family Physician: Omega-3 Fatty Acids
[15] Mayo Clinic: Glaucoma
[16] TVST: Oral Omega-3 Supplementation Lowers Intraocular Pressure in Normotensive Adults
[17] PubMed.gov: Dietary fatty acids and colorectal cancer: a case-control study
[18] PubMed.gov: Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids for indicated prevention of psychotic disorders: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial
[19] PubMed.gov: Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids for indicated prevention of psychotic disorders: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial
[20] National Institute of Mental Health: Major Depression
[21] ScienceDirect: Omega-3 fatty acids in major depressive disorder: A preliminary double-blind, placebo-controlled trial
[22] ScienceDirect: Short-term supplementation of acute long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids may alter depression status and decrease symptomology among young adults with depression: A preliminary randomized and placebo-controlled trial
[23] PubMed.gov: Maternal supplementation with very-long-chain n-3 fatty acids during pregnancy and lactation augments children’s IQ at 4 years of age
[24] NCBI: Prevalence and incidence of type 1 diabetes in the world: a systematic review and meta-analysis
[25] PubMed.gov: Use of cod liver oil during the first year of life is associated with lower risk of childhood-onset type 1 diabetes: a large, population-based, case-control study
[26] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Adult Obesity Facts
[27] PubMed.gov: Combining fish-oil supplements with regular aerobic exercise improves body composition and cardiovascular disease risk factors
[28] PubMed.gov: Randomized trial of weight-loss-diets for young adults varying in fish and fish oil content
[29] Cleveland Clinic: Omega-3 Fatty Acids

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